This is the first part of a short series of articles on safety features on swords, and so this first part sets out some useful definitions that will become more important in the next article in the series. It was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 27th January 2017.
Training swords tend to be blunt, to allow us to practise hitting each other without risk of injury. To allow for thrusts, the point also needs to be blunt, but there usually needs to be something else done to the point to increase the surface area, otherwise thrusts will still be dangerous. There are many solutions seen in the HEMA community today; some implemented as part of the manufacturing process, some added later by users.
I suggest the following key to describe tipping solutions.
Definitions: Point and tip
The “point” is the pointy end of the sword; every sword has one of these. A “tip” is something you would put over the point to help improve safety. A sword may therefore have both a point and any number of tips on top of each other.
Types of Sword Point
A “rounded point” is simply a point that has been rounded and is not sharp; this is a common solution on re-enactment style swords.
A “rolled point” is a point that has been rolled over to increase surface area; this is a common solution with modern feders, popularised by Regenyei Armory.
A “spatulated point” is a point that has been rounded, but that also flares out in the edge-to-edge plane, so that the end of the blade resembles a spatula in the kitchen; this is a common solution on historical feders.
A “thickened point” is where the point becomes thicker to increase surface area without needing to roll the point; this eliminates any weaknesses that could be present in a rolled point. This kind of point is often described as “spatulated”, but I have never seen a spatula in the kitchen look like this! It is without a doubt thickened at the point, and therefore I believe this is a better term for this kind of point.
A “nail point” is where the point is flattened back towards the blade, so that it resembles the head of a nail. This is a very easy way of increasing the surface area of the point, and is common on blades for rapiers and modern fencing foils.
Types of External Tips
A “leather tip” is a piece of leather placed over the point, to add surface area.
A “rubber tip” is something like a rubber arrow blunt or a rubber terminal for a walking stick, placed over the point to add surface area.
A “plastic tip” is a piece of plastic placed over the point to add surface area. This could be a piece of thermoplastic added to the sword and left to harden by itself, or it could be a specially manufactured item designed to go on the end of a sword, or any other solution made of plastic.
A “metal tip” is a piece of metal placed over the point to add surface area. This could be a strip of metal bent over and around the tip, or it could be something like a cartridge casing, or any other solution made of metal.
A sword may well include a variety of tipping solutions. For example, at some events, it is required that rapiers are tipped with leather or rubber, around a cartridge casing, to prevent the rapier’s point pushing its way through the soft outer tip. Even if a longsword or feder has a rolled point, I still prefer to see people add a rubber archery blunt to it, to make the thrust a little safer. Whatever solution a club or an event organiser prefers for reasons of safety, we should be able to articulate the solution using clear and precise terminology. I believe the definitions above allow that precision and clarity, and help people mean the same thing when they talk about something like a “spatulated point”.
Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.